Emotional Support Animals, specifically dogs, have gotten out of control and the airlines have a hard time fighting their customers on the rule. But if you’re not a veteran of the military or disabled, leave your dog at home!
Emotional Support and Why It’s Hard For Airlines to Be Strict
Recently, Delta Air Lines, announced that they would no longer allow Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) on their long-haul domestic flights.
For reasons of importation, quarantine, and international regulations, Emotional Support Animals are not allowed in the cabin on international flights, but domestic flights allow the animals by law. The passenger must demonstrate that the animal has been prescribed by someone holding a medical degree (I’m not sure if I am comfortable calling all of them doctors yet – like this one that will sell you an ESA letter for $22).
Airlines have a hard time restricting the animals because the Air Carrier Access Act allows passengers to travel with their pet for free in the cabin does not specify the type of animal it should be. Airlines should also be cautious, in the age of litigation and public relations disasters, about doing anything to violate the rights of a person that could have a legitimate medical claim.
The Federal Government could force airlines to comply or penalize them for failing to allow the access to a paying customer who otherwise followed the regulation especially if it seems to violate their rights associated with the ACAA or the American Disabilities Act.
It’s Akin to Abusing a Handicapped Parking Sticker
Let’s just agree that some percentage of people truly need an emotional support animal to be with them at all times. I have seen cases for those on the autism spectrum that would qualify certainly. But if we say that of those that have emotional support animals on airplanes that genuinely need them are limited to at most, 5% of those that take animals onboard, it still amounts to massive abuse of the system.
I don’t see much difference in someone who has an ailment that qualifies a handicapped parking sticker but really doesn’t fall into the full intention of the law. For example, assume that you’re the parent of a wheelchair-bound child and you park 30 spots away from the front of a store without an additional easement adjacent to the vehicle for your folding ramp. You get to the front of the store where the occupied handicapped stalls feature a 50-year old man with sunglasses rolling the top back on his convertible, and as he backs up, tosses the handicapped hanger into his glove box. He had a heart attack 15 years ago.
Does he really qualify for that parking spot today? Who needed easy access to the building more?
The American Disabilities Act created important reforms to protect those who have different needs than the able-bodied. It’s important legislation, and everyone who abuses its generosity abuses those who qualify under its protection. The same applies here. When a passenger pays a doctor (especially one that they do not normally see) for a specific outcome so that they can travel with their pet, it makes a mockery of the narrow, valid use case for the rule.
What Did ESA Travelers Do Before This?
I remember a time… a simpler time… when ESAs were just not a thing. Passengers had to pay for their animals to travel in the cabin with them, they had to fit in a container, be a certain size/weight and there was (is) a fee to carry them as an extension to the passenger. I paid $100 to transport a cat in the cabin once, it wasn’t an Emotional Support Animal, but I chose to have it in the cabin with me rather than under the hold where it would be subjected to a potentially dangerous situation (animals do not have great experiences in July on the tarmac and in the cargo hold). I paid for it because that’s what the rule was and I abided it.
For ESAs there is no charge. There is also no rule about the size, shape, animal or breed and while some airlines have started to narrow down what’s no longer allowed (squirrels, peacocks for example)
My aunt feels very close to her dogs. Very, very close. She signs their names on Christmas cards and considers them to be family. This post isn’t about her, I don’t know if she flies with her Huskies. But when she went away before, to Hawaii or back to the Midwest, a friend or neighbor would watch her dogs. In fact, on the last visit out to her house in April of last year, she was caring for a neighbor’s dog while he was away on a trip. We have friends that take their dog nearly everywhere, except when they go away on a trip. There is no thought to circumvent the system, they will miss their dog but it’s still a dog and not a human being.
Why has this become unacceptable for dog owners? Why do they feel that circumventing the pet cabin prices or checked animal policies is an ok choice for an otherwise moral and law-abiding person?
Twenty years ago, an ESA wasn’t a thing. If you saw a dog on an airplane, they were contained or a true service animal with training and an owner that understood the responsibility. And what did ESA Travelers do? They made arrangements for their animals including leaving the dog with family or friends or boarding it at a doggy daycare. Why is that now considered unacceptable by pet owners?
Veterans and the Disabled Are Exempt
Making room for your Labradoodle in coach is not something I am willing to assist in doing unless you’re a veteran or if you have a true disability. Some Veterans have PTSD or other emotional/physical requirements that warrant the need for a true service animal. It’s also true that not all disabilities are visible. But those dogs are trained, certified, and perform an actual function.
If someone is at risk of a seizure or blind for example, they should absolutely have access to the tools and animals that make the world more manageable. If you are a person that loves your “fur baby” and can’t imagine how you would do without them for a week in Florida, consider driving. It’s different. It’s not a disability and if so then perhaps those passengers should have their animal service-trained.
It’s simple for me. If you’ve served our country and feel that you need an animal with you or one has been prescribed for you, there will be no judgment from this frequent flyer.
What do you think? Should dogs be left at home? Are there other groups I am forgetting about that should be given a free pass?